PARIS – On his whirlwind first day since winning the French presidential election, Socialist Francois Hollande was set to embark on a crash course in international politics, with a critical visit to Berlin, an invitation to the White House, and two top summits already on the agenda.
The leftist who has pledged to buck Europe’s austerity trend and NATO’s timetable for Afghanistan has virtually no foreign policy experience, and he will have very little time to catch up before he officially becomes France’s new president on May 15 — and must defend his policies to skeptical foreign leaders who worked with defeated incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy.
He acknowledged Monday that his office was in a “transition phase” and that he was still preparing for international meetings, but insisted he would stand by his promises.
“What I said as candidate I will do as president,” he said. But he added, “Now, I am the president of everyone,” not just his supporters on the left.
Hollande has said his first act after the election will be to write a letter to other European leaders calling for a renegotiation of a budget-trimming treaty aimed at bringing the continent’s economies closer together — a stance that puts him at odds with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Hollande will make his first trip abroad the day after he takes office, to Berlin to meet with Merkel. She was the first international leader to congratulate him, but she made clear he will not have a smooth road, cautioning against hope that the austerity measures could now be renegotiated. “We in Germany, and I, personally, believe the fiscal pact is not up for negotiation,” she said.
President Barack Obama has extended Hollande an invitation to the White House ahead of this month’s summit of the Group of Eight leading economies at Camp David, Maryland, in a phone conversation described as “very warm and substantial,” Pierre Moscovici, the man in charge of the president-elect’s transition team, told reporters.
After that, Hollande will attend a NATO summit in Chicago, where he is expected to announce he is pulling French troops out of Afghanistan by the end of the year. NATO maintained Monday it expects France to remain committed to Afghanistan despite his campaign pledge to accelerate the withdrawal.
The G-20 and a European summit lie ahead in June — when critical parliamentary elections will be held.
Even before his start date, the president-elect is due to appear alongside Sarkozy at a ceremony Tuesday marking the anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe.
Hollande said Monday he’ll announce his new prime minister the same day day he becomes president. The new leftist government will be announced before he leaves for Berlin the following day. In France, the prime minister appoints the government and the president approves it.
He also has his work cut out to fulfil the hopes his victory has stirred on France’s left, overjoyed to have one of their own in power for the first time since Socialist Francois Mitterrand was president from 1981 to 1995.
While some market players have worried about a Hollande presidency, the rating agency Standard and Poor’s said his election “has no immediate impact” on France’s AA+ credit rating or negative outlook.
Sarkozy is the latest victim of a wave of voter anger over spending cuts in Europe that has ousted governments and leaders in the past couple of years.
Final results from France’s presidential election show Hollande narrowly defeated Sarkozy with 51.62 per cent of the vote, or 1.13 million of the 37 million votes cast in Sunday’s election. However, Sarkozy’s UMP party is determined to keep its majority in the crucial lower house of parliament and is already plotting strategy for the June voting.
“We are entirely mobilized for this legislative campaign,” said Jean-Francois Cope, UMP president.
Sarkozy, who finished the first round about half-a-million votes behind Hollande, failed in his bid to attract sufficient votes from supporters of the far-right anti-EU and anti-immigration candidate Marine Le Pen, leader of the National Front party, with his lunge to the right in the last two weeks of campaigning.
The head of the National Front party refused to endorse either candidate and said she would cast a blank vote. In that, she was followed by more than 2 million others, a total far higher than in previous elections.
Cope insisted at a news conference Monday that there will be neither alliances nor discussions with the National Front in regions where it is present. But he added that “we will in no case forbid ourselves from discussing what interests the French,” such as immigration — as Sarkozy did during his campaign.
It is crucial for Hollande’s Socialists to control parliament to ease his job of passing promised legislation. The Socialists will have blanket control of the country if they get a majority in the lower house. They already preside over the Senate and hold most regions and municipalities in France.
Hollande has pledged to tax the very rich at 75 per cent of their income, an idea that proved wildly popular among the majority of people. The measure would bring in only a relatively small amount to the budget, and tax lawyers say France’s taxes have always been high and unpredictable and that this may not be as much of a shock as it sounds.
Hollande wants to modify one of Sarkozy’s key reforms, over the retirement age, to allow some people to retire at 60 instead of 62. He wants to hire more teachers and increase spending in a range of sectors, and ease France off its dependence on nuclear energy. He also favours legalizing euthanasia and gay marriage.
Hollande wants to allow for government-funded stimulus programs in hopes of restarting growth, arguing that debts will only get worse if Europe’s economies don’t start growing again.
Frank Jordans in Berlin and Sylvie Corbet in Paris contributed to this article.